With Bigotry on the Ballot, the Midterms Feel Like a Potential Back to the Back of the Bus Moment

Voters hug in the line at a polling place to participate in early voting in California’s 25th Congressional district on November 4, 2018 in Lancaster, California.
Voters hug in the line at a polling place to participate in early voting in California’s 25th Congressional district on November 4, 2018 in Lancaster, California.
Photo: Mario Tama (Getty Images)

During the final weeks and days of this midterm cycle, President Donald Trump has been busy rallying bigots and those in his base comfortable with bigotry. According to polling data from the final NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll before Tuesday’s elections, it may be working, at least a bit.


While Democrats remain strongly favored to retake the House and have a puncher’s chance of retaking the Senate, Trump’s bigoted barnstorming has helped fire up his base.

“It has closed. It is a more competitive race,” Republican pollster Bill McInturff told NBC News.

That’s why it’s time to forget about Trump voters who can be moved by outright bigoted campaigns, which have included down-ticket races as well. This has to be about people who see the need to defeat outright bigotry and racism tomorrow. Period.

The Washington Post put it in stark, but clear terms:

By running so overtly on racially tinged messages, the GOP is putting that explosive form of politics on the ballot. If Republicans maintain control of the House, the notion of running a campaign built on blunt, race-based attacks on immigrants and minorities will have been validated. A loss, on the other hand, might prompt a number of Republicans to call for a rethinking of the party’s direction — but that would collide with a sitting president who, if anything, relishes over-the-edge rhetoric.

There will always be reasons to be dissatisfied with Democrats. There are legitimate internal debates and discussions that must be hashed out between now and the 2020 elections. How to better speak about and contend with the complex mixture of factors that cross race and economic lines, as well as bridging divides between moderates and progressives are issues Democrats must find a way to solve. They aren’t going away any time soon.

But right now, no one should be fooled, that somehow Democratic imperfections and tensions are more important than making sure Trump gets hit—and hit hard—for his open bigotry instead of being rewarded for it. This is no time to sit out the election because you can’t get everything you want. The time for philosophical arguments is Wednesday and beyond. Tomorrow, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, is about recognizing that the house is on fire and there’s no time to fuss over whether the couch should be placed in the corner or nearer the big screen TV. There will be time for that after the fire has been put out.


Too many of us missed that message in November 2016—and sat out the election—when Trump won despite his open bigotry or won because of it. We weren’t fully sold on Hillary Clinton because she said “superpredators” in the 1990s. We were disillusioned by Barack Obama because he didn’t magically create black equality—even though when he left office, the black poverty rate had never been lower, the black jobless rate had been cut by more than half, we experienced the biggest annual increase in wages on record, and the beginning of real criminal justice reform had begun taking hold.

Sometimes we get so focused, so aggrieved by what’s missing we forget about what has been achieved and what’s still possible. The kind of systemic racial progress we all want seldom happens overnight or even during a couple of presidential terms. It can take generations. And that can feel maddeningly slow. But during the Trump era, we’ve seen that a generation’s worth of progress can be virtually rolled back in a matter of a couple of years, and we’ve had to fight tooth and nail to maintain that much. If we don’t send a strong message that Trump’s bigotry—and the bigotry adopted by too many Republican candidates—will no longer be tolerated, he will only feel emboldened to take stronger steps to turn back the racial clock.


If this feels like a back to the back of the bus moment, that’s because it is. Trump and his supporters are trying to take us back to those dark days or something akin to them. We must scream “Hell no!” in the strongest possible terms, that we are not going back, that we will not be cowed by racist fears.

The first step in that process is voting Tuesday and helping others to do the same.

Bailey is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and author of the book, "My Brother Moochie: Reclaiming Dignity in the Face of Crime, Poverty and Racism in the American South." He's a husband and father.


kidelo (i have a tiktok)

If you came down here looking for comments, arguments, polemics etc. and you tl;dr’d the article, please go back and read it.

Read it, please.


Then go vote.